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Pine County, Minn., sect leader charged with sexually abusing girls, remains at large

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PINE CITY, Minn. -- A minister who led a cult-like religious sect in northern Pine County sexually abused numerous girls and young women who lived apart from their families in a “Maidens Group,” according to charges filed in State District Court.

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Victor Arden Barnard, 52, was charged last week in State District Court with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct. The charges pertain to two young women who reported being abused during a period of several years while living on the congregation’s compound in Finlayson. But authorities said there probably are more victims.

Barnard, who likened himself to Jesus, was last known to be living in Spokane, Wash., and remains at large. A nationwide warrant has been issued for his arrest.

The charges are the result of a more than two-year investigation by the Pine County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell said a fugitive task force in Washington is checking addresses of potential associates.

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